Veterans Day 2010

I was planning on making a post concerning Veterans Day and did a little research.  There was one blog here on WP that really got my attention.  The blog entry was perfectly stated and I’m not really sure I can do better.  The post is here and I hope Amy will not mind because it expresses a lot of how I feel also:

Let me tell you a story – from the heart:

My contact with the military began when I was very young – born into it to be specific – in 1942.  My dad was a newly-minted Second Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps (the Air Force hadn’t been invented yet) stationed in Spokane, Washington in preparation for a tour throughout Canada while the AlCan Highway was being built.  He was to run a string of weather stations that ran between Edmonton, Alberta and Fairbanks, Territory of Alaska (not a state until January 3, 1959)

I became aware of my surroundings when I was somewhere near two or three up in Edmonton.  I remember lots of snow, football games in the snow, being pulled through the snow.  Have I mentioned the snow?  My memory is a bit fuzzy from there until I was five.  My mom and dad were now settled down in Fairbanks on 14th street.  Across from our house stretched endless tundra with an occasional stunted pine tree.  Ladd Field was home to a wing of B-36 bombers.  If anyone has ever witnessed a B-36 taking off you will never forget it.  The huge drumming of those six reversed-propeller engines moving all that weight down a two-mile runway – with the added high-pitched whine of four jet engines shook the earth.  I would stand open-mouthed and watch them every time they went overhead.

I grew older, we moved from Fairbanks to Washington, D.C. in 1950.  Our mode of transport was a 1950 Oldsmobile station wagon.  We drove all the way there, detouring through California, Colorado, and Nebraska.  It was a great trip.  I went from eight to thirteen in Maryland.  We lived very close to Andrews, Air Base.  The Army Air Corps was now the Air Force and my dad was wearing a new, blue, uniform.  I loved having him take me to the base on ‘bring your kid’ days.  I used to sit at his desk and draw weather maps.  Some of which, if they depicted real weather, would curl your hair.   He taught me basic Meteorology right there in his office and at home.

In 1955 we moved again.  This time to a thrilling place for me: Germany.  Keeping in mind that the war had just been over for only ten years, I found the natives were extremely friendly.  I joined lots of youth groups, went camping, bicycling, sleigh-riding, and generally hung out off base.  It was a walk from the housing area, but well worth it.  My friends would think nothing of walking up to complete strangers at school and starting a conversation.  We did that.  We were interested in where everyone was stationed, what they wanted to do when they ‘grew up’ and all that.  There were some rough edges, but basically the life as a military teenager was simply great.  No worries about your dad getting fired, or anything like that.  We were forced to act and be on our best behavior because we knew we were being judged by others.

In ’58 we moved yet again.  Going from the European formality of speech, way of dress, and manners to dive into the Californian culture.  What a change!  We lived just north of San Francisco, in Petaluma, and my dad was stationed at Hamilton, AFB.  This will have significance later in my post.  I had a very hard time fitting into school.  Kids would stare at me when I stood still on the sidewalk with my hand over my heart while the flag was being raised in the front courtyard.  I drew giggles, and, yes, even insults.  I also got a few bands and dings from trying to straighten out people as to their attitudes.  I graduated in 1960.  A fresh new decade to explore.

My dad moved in the middle of my senior year.  I stayed with the family of a Master Sergeant who worked for my dad.  Once I graduated, I went up to Montana where he was stationed at Great Falls.  Malmstrom AFB – a huge SAC (Strategic Air Command) base.  The sight of those massive B-52’s taking off would cause echoes of the B-36’s in Alaska in my mind.  You want to talk about the might of the United States?  There it is right there!

I attended the University of Montana at Missoula one year.  This took me to the fall of 1961.  My grades were so-so, but nothing to jump up and down about.  Vague, disturbing, news reports were beginning to appear about some struggle over in Southeast Asia.  We were trying to keep out of it, but at the same time, advisers were being sent there – and dying.  My dad would raise hell every time he read of that.  I started paying more attention to news reports.  I was no dummy.  I could read handwriting on the wall and I didn’t like it.  Draft numbers seriously close to mine were being called.  I did a lot of self-examination and talked to my dad and several friends of his.  I knew I would join the military, but I decided I would do it on MY terms.  I started with the Air Force recruiter.

The AF recruiter was a close friend of my parents and listened carefully to my desires, and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  We spent three hours together in his office.  He finally stated that for what I wanted, the Air Force really didn’t have the schools for me.  He arranged for me to see his good friend, the Navy recruiter.  I spent a couple of hours with him.  I know that everyone screams that the recruiter screwed them, but mine most certainly did not.  I wanted electronics.  Something in that field.  I was already a radio amateur and knew electronics cold.  He made several calls, and showed me a page in his jobs manual that seemed filled with vague phrases and circular statements.  It was for the naval rating of Communications Technician (later Cryptographic Technician).  I was fired up for this.  I also needed a clearance higher than Top Secret.  Oops.  Was I good enough to get it?  Only the FBI could tell.

I signed on the dotted line, raised my right hand and said the magic words “I do solemnly swear…”  Then myself and thirty-two other Montanans boarded the train down to San Diego.  Since I was the only one with military background I was appointed the leader.  The trip was like trying to contain several barrels of monkeys, only harder.  We did make it though.  The next 14 weeks were pretty hard but, since I again had the background, I was able to keep out of the line of fire.  Midway through my boot camp I was called over to the security office.  They were astounded to tell me that not only had my interim clearance had arrived, but also my final clearance – I was in!  From boot camp I went to Pensacola, Florida for A school (primary training).  Four months passed with relative speed and I graduated into the secret world of spooks.  Until we moved from the ‘basic’ portion to the ‘advanced’ portion not one clue as to what we would really be doing was given us.  I made the assumption, since the very first thing they did was teach us the Morse code, that we would be sort of super-radiomen.  I was also very wrong; and very right.  We were indeed going to be super radiomen, but we weren’t aimed at the US Navy.  Even now, 48 years later, I can’t tell you what I did but suffice it to say that I take a HUGE amount of pride in what I did.  We all did.  We were being entrusted with secrets on a National level.

I left Pensacola for Christmas leave  and came home.  This was December of 1962.  My brother talked me into going to a party with him (ewwww, high school kids???) but I enjoyed it very much.  Especially a soft-spoken brunette that stood almost eye-to-eye with me.  I was stabbed in the heart with cupid’s arrow.  I spent the rest of my all too short leave with her.  All two weeks.  Then I went to my first duty station (Lajes,  Azores).  We wrote each other letters and tried very hard to keep in touch.  During that time, a little flareup called “The Cuban Missile Crisis” popped up.  Things around the Azores got Very Tense for a few hours.  In the summer of ’63 I took leave again.  My best friend was also traveling with me to be my best man.  We got married on August first.  Most of her friends (and mine for that matter) were astonished that we could make a go of it after only being with each other physically for just four short weeks.  I left the Azores for good on November 22, 1963.

We all know what happened that day.  I was actually flying over Dallas in a venerable Boeing 707 when the Captain announced “something funny is happening down below us in Dallas.  Here’s a radio station…”  The announcer was trying his best to describe the chaos occurring in his city as the events unfolded.  The Captain kept changing ground stations all the way to Denver.  My seatmate, a newly minted Marine, and I listened and wondered what we should do.  My advice 3was to just head for home and stay by the phone.

My wife and I packed up and headed east to Laurel, Maryland.  Not a very good place at all.  We lived in an actual hovel and ate beans and franks because that’s all we could afford.  My pay, as an E4 (Third Class Petty Officer) was less than $400 or so a month.  Not a lot of discretionary funds there.  I had re-enlisted on a program that guaranteed me a “B” school.  This school was located at Fort Meade – home of the National Security Agency (or sometimes known as ‘none such agency’).  When I graduated I got promoted to E5 (Second Class) which, more importantly, allowed my new wife to accompany me to the Philippines.  We were given the choice of air or sea travel.  We opted for sea.  The trip took 32 days from Oakland Army Terminal, California to Subic Bay, Philippines.  We had stops at such exotic places as Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guam, and Manila.  It was an MSTS ship (military owned, civilian run).  It was a wonderful trip actually considering that the two of us had bunk beds.  But that didn’t stop us.

The Philippines was great.  We had a nice house, a great club to hang around in, a maid, a houseboy; all the comforts of home – except we were a day ahead of everyone back in the States.  I did my sneaky stuff, while my wife just got more and more pregnant.  Shortly after my daughter was born, I ended up with orders.  These order short-toured me (meaning: instead of the nice three-year tour, you only get 17 months and then you get your can off to a ship).  We had to pack our house and ship everything home in 14 days.  After a harrowing van trip to Clark AFB we got exactly ten minutes in the terminal to say goodbye to each other over a steel fence.  I was on my way back down to Subic Bay to pick up the USS Oxford, a “technical research” ship (read spy ship).  We shoved off two days later for my first tour of Vietnam. [NOTE: Do a Google search on the Oxford.  It is very entertaining.  I have several articles on the web page that I wrote.  The ship is also featured in the book “Body of Secrets” by James Bamford.

I spent an entire year and then some on the Oxford.  Since tours were defined as anything over 90 days ‘in country’ I spend three four-month tours with brief rests in Sasebo, Japan, Kau Hsiung, Taiwan, Bangkok, Thailand, Subic Bay, and many Vietnamese ports.  I was run ragged, but loved every minute of it.  I also took the test for, passed, and was advanced to First Class (E6).  Not bad for only being in the Navy for just barely five years.  I was now deemed a leader.  I had 17 people working for me in my watch section.  I had status.  I was also ready to re-enlist again.

I left the Oxford and went to Norfolk, Virginia for instructor school and then back down to Pensacola for duty as an instructor.  This is the place I’d just left a few short years before as a trainee.  Now I was back teaching new trainees.  My wife and I bought a nice house and settled down for a good three-year tour.  I even spent some time with the Pensacola Shore Patrol which is the Navy’s police force.

Next, I got sent to Ramasun Station, Thailand which was way up on the Laotian border.  Since this was deemed a war zone, this was not an accompanied tour.  It would also count as two separate Vietnam War tours.  I bundled my wife and daughter into the car and took them back to Boulder, Colorado on my way across country.  A month after I reported in to the detachment, our Senior Chief (highest rated enlisted man) had a fatal heart attack.  I was next senior and had to take over as administrator for our detachment of seven persons.

When I left Thailand, I was under orders to Misawa, Japan.  Living quarters were very tight and I was not expected to get any for at least a year with my name on the list.  So, even after a long separation I was headed into yet another separation after a very short period of leave.  By my calculations, we had been together less than we’d been apart for the period of our marriage.  We were sad, we were miserable, but it was a job that had to be done.  If I didn’t do it, then someone else would have to.  That’s the meaning of the word commitment.  I lived in a barracks, dined in a mess hall, and worked inside a cipher-locked building.  On liberty, we had a good time just to forget our high-pressure jobs for a while.  I succumbed to it a bit much and began dancing closely towards being a functional alcoholic.  It didn’t alarm me, but once my wife and daughter were allowed to join me, it alarmed them.  I did my best to walk a straight line.  Our second daughter was born in Japan.

I was finally accepted as a computer programmer in my own right by orders to Skaggs Island, California.  This is a base just north of San Francisco’s bay area and sat (it is now closed and abandoned) on salt marshes.  We received quarters right back at Hamilton Air Force Base – which was then defunct as an ‘air’ base.  Only the housing was still active.  Midway through my tour, I re-enlisted for the last time.  My father, Colonel, USAF, Retired gave me the oath.  In total, I spent seven years there, going first to a programming school for the HFDF (High Frequency Direction Finding) and then onwards to teach programming at the school I just graduated from.  In seven years, which went by very fast, I knew my career was winding down.  At twenty years, I applied for retirement and the ceremony was held right at this base.  My military career had ended.

Now, as I look back over the years I feel a lot of pride in what I did.  Facing the naysayers, spitters, name-callers, and other unsavory folks I can tell anyone who asks that I never faltered in my support of what we were doing.  It was just that important.  Not just to us, but the rest of the country.  In the latter years of my service days, I had responsibilities that included being able to send messages that I knew, KNEW, the President would get within six minutes.  That, my friends, I responsibility with a big “R”.

I earned each and every one of my awards and medals.  I wore a three-bar ribbon set with 2 Navy Unit Citations, 2 Meritorious Unit Citations, 4 awards of the Good Conduct Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Combat Ribbon (with 4 stars – each star a tour plus the medal itself), National Defense medal, and the Rifle Sharpshooting Medal.  Some of them were for just being there, and others were for specific historical events.

So, if you happen to see me, standing stock still with my hand over my heart and tearing up at the sound of colors playing, come on over and join me.  Being patriotic won’t hurt you.  In fact, it will enlighten you.  If you do get near me, don’t you dare fidget, text, gripe or grumble at being delayed by everyone stopping their cars and waiting until the music is over.



7 thoughts on “Veterans Day 2010

  1. Thanks Bill. I knew some of the things you had done but not all of this. I am very impressed! I too, stand still at flag raisings. I still have my flag out in front of the house and am proud to fly it. As your little sister, I would like to thank you for all that you have done!
    HUGS to you and Lorna

    • Thanks very much, Penny. It was adventurous when I did it, and now when I look back on it, it’s still an adventure. My Cold War opposition is essentially gone now, but we have new adversaries that carry even more potential for harm because they aren’t known. I did my bit, but I’d be willing to go back in a heartbeat.



    Great blog post Bill and so glad you are sharing these stories. Amazing you were flying over Dallas on that fateful day.

    More please 🙂

    • I can’t talk a lot about what I did, but I have lots of stories that might be interesting. Maybe that would be a good way to go here with the blog.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Bill,
    What a phenomenal career. I’ve been to many of the same places as you, a few years later. 🙂 Thank you again for your service and sacrifice. Thanks also to your wife and children! I greatly appreciate the link as well …


  4. Good morning, Happy Veterans Day!

    We simply just needed to wish America’s twenty six million old soldiers a happy Veteran’s Day. And also lets me personally quote Veterans Day quote which I actually really like:

    “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave … . *** Elmer Davis”… .

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